The NBA season is long. Not quite as long as the MLB season, which has seemingly already peaked following the retirement of Ichiro Suzuki, but long enough.
Sitting through 1,230 games over the span of seven months is a harrowing ordeal. It’s an exercise in passion—have you ever counted to 1,230 for anything before? And, when it’s all said and done the “second season” awaits: the NBA Playoffs.
Each season the NBA seeks to assuage the manic focus needed to consume over 3,000 hours of basketball with the All-Star weekend. If the regular season is the daily grind of going to Physics class at eight a.m., then the All-Star break is Junior Prom: quick, messy and forgotten in an instant.
Commissioner Adam Silver and Co. have tried to address the All-Star Game’s forgetability. They let the teams play for charity, under the auspices that good will is best fuel for 24 multi-millionaires (it isn’t).
Then, the league introduced teams selected by captains akin to a gym class game of kickball. Sure, it worked briefly (2018) but was quickly overrun by the rampant, “too cool for school” attitude that the All-Star break was known for.
Silver has admitted that basketball needs to shake things up. As an ambassador for pushing the NBA to global heights (NBA Africa can’t come soon enough), Silver has toyed with the idea of injecting a mid-season tournament into the lifeless shell that is the All-Star break.
So, what’s the hold up?
“The All-Star Game didn’t work,” Silver said, via the Associated Press. He deemed the new look game an “afterthought” that was the equivalent of putting “an earring on a pig.”
Now that the All-Star break is obscured in the NBA’s collective memory, it’s time we completely obliterated it in favor of a new system. And what system is that?
A mid-season tournament.
March Madness is barreling down on the American populace at Mach 5. Amidst a woefully insensitive NCAA student-athlete commercial—I don’t want to speak out of turn, but I guarantee Zion Williamson isn’t actively participating in morning classes right now (he’s somewhere on his way to Columbia, SC with the rest of the Duke Blue Devils)—the slavekeepers of college athletics have managed to do exactly one thing right: the annual springtime basketball classic.
From the most ardent college hoops fans to the most apathetic office worker, all eyes are attuned to the fates of 132 basketball programs. Making brackets has become a yearly pastime, amplified by the allure of winning big bucks thanks to office pools, local bars and the ever-popular sports gambling.
March Madness is truly marketing mastery. Alliteration aside, it’s the prime example of getting a bunch of people to care about something, all while generating huge amounts of revenue for those involved (except the players, of course). According to a USA Today report, the NCAA’s television deal with CBS and Turner is worth $8.8 billion between now and 2032, and that doesn’t even account for the pre-existing $10.8 billion or the $10 billion being bet on the games.
The Tournament dethrones news programming—the Michigan State-Bradley game cut the New York area CBS 2 News at 5 to just a half-hour (a real shame that was)—and even overpowers the usual NBA broadcasts. On March 21, the entire NBA is playing solely on NBA League Pass or local providers.
All of this for a series of games that, while riddled with storylines, will be largely forgotten when the engines behind NCAA powerhouses shuffle upstairs to the NBA. March Madness is a cultural phenomenon, which is exactly why the NBA needs to adopt a tournament of its own.
When February rolls around, the NBA world shifts to the All-Star break. Journalists start talking about which AirBnB will provide their temporary home. Coaches make plans for vacations only for them to be interrupted (sorry, Mike Budenholzer). The entire league shifts out of the doldrums of winter and towards a brief respite.
Supplanting the All-Star Break’s rotting corpse with a mid-season tournament however, could help the good vibes roll. Consider this: take the seven worst teams in each conference, seed them, and pit them against each other in a two-week long bracket. Throw in a few extra rules; maybe add a four-point shot or revive hand-checking, and make the grand prize a top-three draft pick and I guarantee even the New York Knicks would show up and show out.
This tourney could be accompanied by a curtailed NBA season. Why not chop off 20 or so games? The lockout season of 2011-12 played just like a regular season, albeit with fewer irrelevant stories about player x’s commitment to his team ahead of the playoffs.
The NBA season is long. And when March Madness provides a completely worthy substitute for yet another uninspired game between the Phoenix Suns and the Minnesota Timberwolves, spicing things up can do no harm. The G-League has abolished its All-Star break in favor of naming all-midseason teams and no one batted an eye.
Besides, when the highlight of an entire weekend in Charlotte is J. Cole missing a dunk while wearing a tie-dye hoodie, I think we can all agree: it’s time for a change.